Israel are unique in that they are the only international side to have played qualifying matches in several different continental zones. Over the years, the Blue and Whites have been involved in qualifying campaigns in Europe, Africa, Asia and even Oceania. They won the Asian Nations Cup in 1964 but have only managed to qualify for a FIFA World Cup™ on one occasion, achieving the feat back in 1970.
After finishing third in their qualifying groups in 1998 and 2002, Israel managed an unbeaten preliminary campaign in 2006 only to be squeezed out of a finals berth by France and Switzerland. It was Switzerland once again who blocked Israel’s path four years later, qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa along with Greece.
FIFA World Cup finals history
They may have fallen at the first hurdle in their only FIFA World Cup appearance in Mexico in 1970, but Israel certainly went out with their heads held high. After a 2-0 defeat by Uruguay and a keenly-fought 1-1 draw with Sweden, Israel went on to hold eventual finalists Italy to a goalless draw in their final group match.
Captain Mordechai Spiegler’s strike against Sweden earned him a place in Israeli football folklore and to this day remains Israel’s only goal at a FIFA World Cup finals.
The current crop
Israel often had to play their home matches abroad for safety reasons, which means that lengthy round trips were a common feature. Their presence in the European qualifying zone since 1994 has brought a certain amount of stability, as has the ability to host opponents in Tel-Aviv since 2006.
Many of Israel’s star players ply their trade in top European leagues, and the national side have achieved good results against several heavyweights of world football. A long-awaited second appearance at a FIFA World Cup would further enhance Israel’s growing status on the international scene.
The key players
Experienced goalkeeper Dudu Aouate spent the best part of a decade in the Spanish top flight, while versatile defender Tal Ben-Haim enjoys a strong reputation in the English Premier League.
The driving force of the team is midfield playmaker Yossi Benayoun, whose range of passing and keen eye for goal make him a constant threat to opposition defences. Benayoun is considered one of Israel’s most gifted players and sits comfortably alongside past greats such as Spiegler, Ronny Rosenthal and Eyal Berkovic.
Coach: Eli Guttman
Best performance in a FIFA competition: FIFA World Cup Mexico 1970 (Group stages)
Former stars: Mordechai Spiegler, Eyal Berkovic, Ronny Rosenthal